Punitive measures against Belarus might be imminent, after authorities in Minsk forced a Ryanair plane to land and arrested a passenger on board.
In a tweet, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said “The outrageous and illegal behaviour of the regime in Belarus will have consequences.” She continued:
“Those responsible for the Ryanair hijacking must be sanctioned.” The exiled Belarusian activist and blogger Roman Protasevich was traveling from Greece to Lithuania when the airplane was diverted to Belarus in a false security alert. EU leaders will convene today to discuss the matter.
Lukashenka and his regime today showed again its contempt for international community and its citizens. Faking a bomb threat and sending MiG-29s to force @RyanAir to Minsk in order to arrest a @Nexta journalist on politically motivated charges is dangerous and abhorrent.— Julie Fisher (@USAmbBelarus) May 23, 2021
Whether that security alert was a fabrication by the Belarus authorities is now at the heart of an incident which has sparked widespread international condemnation and raised serious questions about safety in the skies. Some governments have described the incident as a state-sanctioned hijacking.
One of the passengers on board the Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius was Belarus opposition activist Raman Pratasevich, who is wanted on a variety of charges. For him the diversion was much more than an inconvenience.
As soon as the plane landed, he was arrested, according to the Belarus Interior Ministry.The President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, has been fending off opposition protests since claiming victory last year after a hotly-disputed election widely condemned by the international community.
Ryanair’s statement fails to mention that 6 people didn’t continue on to Vilnius: Roman Protasevich, the Belarusian opposition journalist and his girlfriend who were detained, and four mysterious Russians who decided to end their trip on Minsk. https://t.co/9jyost5FDJ— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) May 23, 2021
Ryanair flight FR4978 arrived at Vilnius airport in Lithuania after being diverted and held for hours in the Belarusian capital Minsk. The normally three-hour flight from Athens to Vilnius had almost reached its destination when Belarusian authorities diverted the plane.
They cited a bomb threat and escorted it with a military plane to the airport in Minsk. The authorities didn’t find any explosives. But they did arrest a passenger: Roman Protasevich, a Belarusian activist and blogger living in exile. Passengers said they saw Belarusian police confiscating the activist’s passport.
For months, Belarusians have been protesting against Authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko. The outrage was sparked in August when he won a sixth term in office in a presidential vote the opposition said was rigged.
Очень хорошо.— Ilya Varlamov (@varlamov) May 24, 2021
Автор: Yuriy Pogorelov pic.twitter.com/cZToMZzaNe
The government cracked down and arrested thousands. By then, Protasevich already lived in Poland. He is a co-founder of NEXTA, a channel on the Telegram messaging app, which was used to help organize the protests and published video from them. International leaders are calling the episode a hijacking – and demand the release of Roman Protasevich. EU leaders are set to discuss their response on Monday.
A Ryanair flight #FR4978 from Athens to Vilnius, diverted to Minsk in Belarus earlier today.https://t.co/rnUpiqOjch— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) May 23, 2021
According to reports in media a Belarus journalist, that was onboard the flight, was arrested after the diversion to Minsk. pic.twitter.com/MQyvXsDExM
The UN’s agency for civil aviation, ICAO, said it was concerned about an “apparent forced landing” which could be “in contravention of the Chicago Convention” which sets out the rules on airspace and aircraft safety.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said: “Hijacking a civilian plane is an unprecedented act of state terrorism that cannot go unpunished.”